Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Mobile Author, Part Four: Planning Your Story

Even pantsers need to do some planning. Today I'm going to tell you about some apps that can help the mobile author plan a story.


There are many ways to plan a story. My favorite is to make notes that summarize key events in the story. The note apps I described in last week's article are perfect for that. But there are some other useful tools that you might find helpful, depending on your work style.


Many writers like to start with a detailed outline. I'm not one of them, but for this article, I looked for a good outlining app. Outliner seems to be almost perfect for you Android-using planners. It enables you to make a detailed outline, and even create a task list based on the outline. If you're an outliner, you might try this app. I also see several outlining apps in the Apple App Store for a variety of prices. Let us know if one of these works for you.


I admit it, I like mindmaps. I've used them to organize projects for my day job. I've also used them to help me spawn ideas by creating word associations and following character traits through a map. If you want ideas for using mindmaps to create a novel, you might start with this article.

 A character mindmap in SimpleMind Free

There are several mindmapping tools you can try, but the one I've used on my tablet is called SimpleMind for Android. SimpleMind is also free in the Apple App Store, so iOS mindmappers rejoice.

SimpleMind is easy to use, even on a small screen. It's easy to create nodes and move them around, and the mind maps are simple but attractive. I haven't tried syncing a map or saving to Dropbox. You're more likely to want to use this on your tablet than your phone because the bigger screen is nice, so syncing between devices might not matter much unless you have more than one tablet.


The whiteboard is a perfect tool for story building. What can be better than a blank slate and colorful pens? You can free-associate thoughts and words, make mind maps, do whatever. When you have a blank white board, you have no limits.

I've been playing with a whiteboard app called SyncSpace Shared Whiteboard (Android and iOS). In addition to being a cool whiteboard with the features you'd expect and infinite zoom in an out, you can share your board across devices, including over the web, for collaborating. It's free for Android. The iPad version will set you back $9.99, but you get significant additional features.

There are tons of whiteboard apps for both Android and iOS. This is another app category where the best thing to do is try a few and decide what works for you. Go to your app store and search for "whiteboard." If you find a favorite, let us know.

Bulletin Board

I mentioned Trello in the previous article in this series. Trello is essentially a bulletin board that you use to pin and organize cards. Like a real index card, a card has two sides that can contain anything you want it to, and you can organize your cards in a list, which is basically a bunch of cards pinned together in a column.

Think of the possibilities. You could have a card for each character and include whatever information you want, including a picture. Then, keep all of your character cards in the character list. Or, you could write a summary of each scene on its own card, then organize the scenes in order or into chapters. You could easily rearrange scenes, add new ones, or discard them into a discard list.

Because Trello is a Cloud application, all you have to do is set up an account and install the app, and your cards are available wherever you are, on any device.


Back in December, I wrote a detailed review of the Cardboard index card app and how it can be used for storyboarding. I'm happy to say this app has gotten even better since then, with better terminology and some interface changes. Best of all, the plug-in that included card styles for writers is no longer needed because those cards have been added to the main app. There are cards to help with common story elements, plot in traditional acts, or follow the journey of the hero.

If you like storyboarding with index cards, or if you like the storyboarding feature in programs like Scrivener, Cardboard could become one of your go-to apps in your mobile office.

Next Step

Next week, I'll get down to the nitty-gritty with some suggestions for using your tablet to actually write your story. I'll discuss some full office suites, some minimalist text editors, and some ways to use the features of your mobile office to keep you focused on meeting your writing goals.

The Mobile Author, Part Five: Writing
The Mobile Author, Part Six: Submissions
The Mobile Author, Part Seven: Managing Your Writing Life


Yamile Mendez said...

These are all great resources! I want to try mind-mapping!

Scott said...

Yamile, mind mapping is a fun way to work through ideas. It can help you find connections that can help in story building, and to identify places where your ideas need to be fleshed out a little more. I'm not an expert mind mapper by any means, but it has helped me through some confusing problems in stories and at work. If you try it, let me know how it works for you.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Yamile, what a super post. I'm not sure if I'm a plotter or a planner. I write note cards and categorize them. I jot down potential scenes too. I tape everything on posterboards and hang them in my office. I guess I should get with the times, but I like to see my ideas hanging on the walls as a reminder of what I am doing.

Scott said...

Sharon, that works for you, so keep it up. There is definitely something about the physical act of putting real cards on real posterboards that keeps them in your mind. The posterboards are a great idea. Do you write on them to connect cards or otherwise enhance your card system? But if you are ever away from your office, these apps give you a mobile alternative.

Taffy said...

I downloaded a couple of mind mapping apps on my phone. They are fun!

Scott said...

Which ones did you download, Taffy? Do you prefer one over the other!

Yamile said...

yes, Sharon and Taffy! Share more about your process!

Julie Daines said...

Scott, this is a great series and super informative! Thanks for all the work and research you've put into them. I'm going to try doing a basic outline with one of these for my current WIP...but which one to use...

Tabitha Thompson said...

These have been great, Scott! Super informative and helpful. I need to re-read them all again!